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AI Assistants and Their Sugar Spike Evolutions

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

AI assistants have become commonly used throughout modern society, with a surprising number of demographics and age groups quickly adopting them. Even people who you would think are traditionally averse to adopting new technology, seem to utilize voice-controlled assistants almost naturally because of their built-in intuitiveness.

Personally, I've been a huge- and early- adopter of smart home automation. I have been consistently outfitting my home with more and more voice-controlled and smart devices since I got my first Alexa in 2015. I used to adore saying "Okay google, (some youtube search)" in my car hands-free when I wanted to listen to youtube videos. Google's voice recognition was and is the most impressive technology out there to this day.

Siri, I was kind of always on the "eh, this is 'Dragon Naturally Speaking' for 2013" side of and never hugely impressed by it. Mostly because it was awful at pulling up results you wanted, and always insisted on being enabled or used when you weren't trying to use it. But Google as its main competitor in Maps and Youtube, trounced it so well that I didn't completely ignore voice recognition services... only developed an exclusive kind of preference for using anything with 'Google' and nothing else.

But over the years, as we've seen famously with Siri- there is an initial rollout and these conceptual promises of a 'constantly learning' AI assistant you'll always have... only for that concept to ultimately end up dying on the vine, when after the gimmick of basic voice recognition wears off and you become too annoyed at the inaccuracies, intrusiveness and unhelpfulness of the assistant itself, you realize "hey... it's been 4 years and I'm still dealing with the same freaking issues I had at the start".

Again, Siri was famous for this. Apple seems to have all but abandoned their development in recent years. However, after 6 years of continuously buying and integrating every Alexa-capable piece of hardware, software and Echo product out there... I've noticed the same thing year after year with them. Sure, they keep releasing new products. Sure, we get more integrations.

But it's been 5 years of saying "Echo, turn on the bedroom" and it going "sorry, I didn't get that but would you enjoy hearing my entire life story as I play you a song by a random artist and continually drab on about where you can go to get help for Alexa products in the future...". It's been 5 years of saying something and having 1 of your 5 echos go "sorry, that skill isn't enabled" while 3 of them recognize your request and another one doesn't even notice you made a request.

To this day I still can't wipe the configuration or ARP table from an Alexa I've had for a few years, so an old one will still get confused and try to turn off a light I decommissioned 3 years ago. To this day, after 3 generations of Echo Shows, we still have these nearly-useless standby screens that show us stupid stuff like a random news article or an Alexa tip every 20 seconds. How are they still developing bigger, brighter screens on a device that makes almost no utilization of that screen, for 3 generations now? And why on earth do I keep buying the newest ones like an idiot, even with this knowledge?

I'm not sure. I recall in around 2017 a major Alexa software update was released where instead of saying "okay" or "turning bedroom on" after you say "Echo, turn on the bedroom", you could opt for a simple quick chime. That was great. That was the seed that was planted in my head that Alexa is going to be a continually improving assistant, refining itself over the years constantly.

But that's where it stopped. In 2017. In the past 4 years I can't remember a single substantial update that's done something like improved voice recognition, or introduced a new critical feature (apart from stupid video chat related stuff like 'drop in' which seems like it's purpose built to catch people while they're walking out of the shower or something).

Although I've been a massive Alexa fan simply for the core functionality of being able to turn on and off appliances remotely with your voice or phone instead of physically having to be there and hit a switch... I may be on my way out the door with Amazon's ecosystem soon. I never bothered with Google Home because it came out after I'd already adopted Alexa, and there was less support. But that's changed in recent years, so I'm starting to recall my fond memories and constantly impressed reactions to google's recognition technology ALWAYS getting my requests right over the years... and maybe just have to convert. I have around 60 IoT products in my household, and 8 Alexa's spread out over every room... so the uplift to a Google conversion may be some work.

At this point though, I'm at the end of my rope. I'm worried Google may be on that same sugarspike trajectory with their AI assistant tech, where they initially implemented something impressive but never bothered to keep it going as the years went on. But I do want to retain my home automation, so I may take the risk and see if Google has stuck to their tech and not let it die on the vine like Amazon and Apple both have over the years. We'll see.

What do you think of AI assistants and their lack of evolution after the initial rollout? Do you know of any impressive modern assistants I haven't mentioned in this article? Feel free to leave a comment if you've got some insight.

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